Everton Must Win at Fulham to Maintain European Dream

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Everton Must Win at Fulham to Maintain European Dream
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Damien Duff battles Steven Pienaar for the ball last season

David Moyes and his fascinating assembly of Everton bargain buys, underrated superstars, and respected veterans blew up the race for European football with their early season form.

For the first time in recent memory, the Blues started a Premier League campaign positively, managing an opening-day triumph over title-contenders Manchester United, along with away victories at Swansea City and Aston Villa.

Nevertheless, they slowly fizzled, and while they have only lost to West Bromwich Albion, the club have drawn their last three matches and fallen to fifth in the table.

Usually the neutral's favorite side, Everton traditionally punch above their weight and claim victories over more financially-blessed clubs such as Manchester City, Chelsea, and Man United.

However, their lack of a serious threat to the Champion's League- and title-chasers, due to their meager finances, makes them a fun side to watch and root for.

Despite falling outside of the prized places last week, the 2012-13 season still has the potential to be one in which fortunes finally shift for the Merseysiders. Remaining so close to the Big Four prior to their typical mid-season surge holds the promise that Europe is attainable for the first time in three seasons.

And it shakes up the traditional power structure, allowing supporters of the club to potentially hope for the often unattainable cash cow that is the Champions League.

Crucial to Everton's pursuit of continental football will be how they perform following the 2-2 draw at home to Liverpool on Sunday.

The club now faces a tricky away trip to in-form Fulham, but then have two arguably easy matches before they meet Arsenal on November 28. Victories against low- and mid-table clubs will be essential for David Moyes' men, as they transition into trickier contests against the top sides in the league in December.

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Fulham may have drawn 3-3 in a winnable match against Reading over the weekend, but they are the third highest-scoring team in the EPL, and have the potential to unnerve any defense with their striking combinations of Dimitar Berbatov, Mladen Petric, Hugo Rodallega and Bryan Ruiz.

Each attacker brings their own style to the table, and Berbatov especially can create a goal out of nothing. Coupled with a strong defense lead by veteran centre-back Brede Hangeland, the Londoners could be hard to break down and contain for Everton, as inferred by the obvious weaknesses in their derby match against Liverpool.

Still, the Toffees have all of the qualities of a top-tier side.

Tim Howard is one of the top goalkeepers in Europe, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines two of the best English defenders in the EPL, Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas are unpredictable and tricky wide-men capable of both assisting and scoring goals, and Marouane Fellaini and Nikica Jelavic are the type of aerial threats that no defense wants to engage.

Moyes' men may let in too many goals at times, but they can also score in bunches, as they showed last season when they defeated the Cottagers 3-1 away and 4-0 at Goodison Park.

So far, Fulham have only lost once at home to defending champions Manchester City. Yet Everton will need to claim a victory if they are to truly challenge for Europe.

Without argument, it will be a difficult match. Martin Jol has the hosts playing enjoyable football and is successfully integrating new signings into the starting 11 to provide an edge for Fulham.

The Blues are also renowned for wilting under pressure, even though they can spring massive surprises if Baines, Pienaar, and especially Fellaini are clicking together.

In the end, the scoreline could come down simply to which individual steps up to the plate, and not which team performs better as a core.

It may not yet be make-or-break for Everton. However, improvement and opportunity for the club as this long season progresses will certainly be judged based on what they can muster at Craven Cottage on Saturday.

Toffees supporters will surely be holding their breath, as their European dream seems a distant, but still plausible possibility this season.

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